Jan. 9, 2019 — Though it’s early in the season, the Sailors were already facing a must-win situation when they traveled to McKenzie last Friday to play the Eagles. In the team’s two previous league games — against Mohawk and Crow — the Sailors had lost both match-ups, in large part to costly mistakes, giving up an 8-point lead in the fourth quarter against Mohawk, and missing 19 free throws against Crow.
“I challenged the team to take the game seriously and make every move on the court with purpose,” said Mapleton coach Eric Wolgamott. “We needed to change our mindset and treat this away game like a business trip.”
Though the Sailors were without starters JJ and Nate Neece in the first period due to some missed practices over the break, sophomores Ryan Bernhardt and Jeremy Bender stepped into the line-up and helped fuel an 11-point opening period for the Sailors.
“I was really proud of how those two responded,” said Wolgamott. “They proved that the moment wasn’t too big for them and gave us solid minutes.”
Though Mapleton posted 11 points in that period, McKenzie still held a 5-point lead entering the second quarter.
With the Neece brothers transitioning in, the Sailors kept pace with the Eagles, staying within 4 points as the clock wound down to the final two seconds — when the eagles drained a 3-point buzzer beater to move ahead by seven at halftime.
“I told the team we were fine and just needed to be more patient on offense,“ Wolgamott said of his halftime talk. “I also told them I felt we could take our defense up a notch, and that's exactly what they did.”
The Sailors held McKenzie to its lowest-scoring period of the game, allowing just 6 points while scoring 17, includ-ing a 3-pointer from Nate Neece to tie the game en route to a 4-point lead to start the fourth quarter.
Mapleton never relinquished the lead from there, sparked by a career-high 22 points and 10 rebonds from JJ Neece, along with 20 points and 11 rebounds from Nate Neece — who also drained a pair of foul shots in the final minute to clinch the win.
“The team responded to the challenge better than I could have hoped,” Wolgamott said. "We plan to keep building on that, moving forward and making some noise.”
Thursday, Mapleton will host Siletz, beginning at 5:30 p.m., followed by the Mapleton girls’ game at 7 p.m.